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Time travel through cookbooks

I collect cookbooks. As vices go, this is a fairly mild one, although there is little hope of my actually trying most of the recipes in the 100-plus books cluttering my shelves. Yet I love to read them, for it is a form of time travel — insight into another era.

When I first learned to cook, there were no cookbooks in my house. The family recipes were handed down verbally from mother to daughter, as they always had been. At age 10, I knew how to make a spaghetti sauce that simmered for two days and pizza made with homemade dough.

This legacy from my grandmother had a few quirks. I once asked her for a pizzelle recipe — something my mother had never learned. Pizzelles are an Italian cookie baked in an iron sort of like an old-fashioned waffle iron, only thinner, which is heated on a stovetop. My grandmother mailed me an iron and her handwritten recipe, complete with instructions to recite half the "Hail Mary" and then turn the cookie over. It made me laugh, but it worked.

I have some very old cookbooks. One recipe for a wedding cake from the early 1800s starts with this instruction: "Take 200 egg yolks." Nowhere does it mention what you are supposed to do with the 200 leftover egg whites, which seems odd in a time when they had no refrigeration.

Another book I treasure is a Good Housekeeping tome from the late 1800s that includes not only food recipes but formulas for various types of cleaners and finishes. I used one formula — made of linseed oil, turpentine and beeswax — to refinish a number of antiques. It provides a beautiful, glowing finish, but you have to be very careful because the mixture is flammable.

My favorite section of that book gives advice about rearing children. It admonishes very forcefully that one should NEVER allow children to play jump rope, as this causes the brain to bounce against the skull and can permanently damage the child.

But of all my cookbooks, my favorites are the paperback fundraisers put out by church groups and women's groups. I recently stumbled across a volume called "Ashland's Treasure of Personal Recipes," published in 1952 by a group called "Royal Neighbors of America."

It is a slim volume, yet it holds some interesting recipes. Apparently even in the 1950s, there were people in Ashland who were very interested in experimenting with food.

Lime Perfection Salad makes an appearance. This is lime gelatin without sugar but with an assortment of finely shredded vegetables — carrots, celery, onions and cabbage — suspended in it. Vinegar, mayonnaise and milk also are added to the mix.

The game recipes are more tempting. From wild duck to moose steak, there are instructions for making it tasty. Venison with sour cream looks possible. It's a sort of deer stew baked with celery, onions and carrots and a sour-cream sauce added at the end.

Mrs. Steve Zarka contributed something called Yockney. Two pounds of lamb, one eggplant, five onions and five potatoes — all cubed — are fried up in butter. Then a quart of tomatoes is added, and it is baked for an hour, then served over rice.

Myrtle Mayberry gave us her Old Favorite Meat Loaf, which is unlike any meatloaf I've seen before. Two pounds of ground beef are mixed with 2 pounds of ground ham, 4 cups of cracker crumbs, four beaten eggs, 2 tablespoons of butter and salt and pepper. The whole is formed into a ball and tied in a white, cloth sack, then dropped into a kettle of boiling water to cook slowly for two hours. It's to be sliced and served hot or cold.

But the best recipe is this one: Preserved Children. Take one large field, half a dozen children, two or three small dogs, a pinch of brook and some pebbles. Mix the children and dogs well together: Put them in the field, stirring constantly. Pour the brook over the pebbles, sprinkle the field with flowers, spread over all a deep-blue sky and bake in the sun. When brown, set away to cool in the bathtub.

A different view of the '50s.

- 123rf.com